With Gaza under sustained attack and Hamas rockets targeting wide swathes of southern and central Israel, it is perhaps too early to draw conclusions about what precisely caused the latest round of blood-letting in the Middle East. That said, there are three factors that are already clear at this stage.
The first is that Bibi Netanyahu never intended to leave office quietly. In the days before yesterday’s descent into open warfare, his opponents appeared set to announce a new government – one with the single, overriding objective of getting rid of the prime minister. Netanyahu, who faces doing prison time without the shield of office, was never going to let that happen.
The second point is that Israel again let itself be misled by a “conception.” In 1973, it was the certainty that Egypt and Syria were too weak and cowed to ever consider attacking Israel. This time it was Hamas that Israel misread – as well as the alienation and anger of the Israeli Palestinian population.
When Palestinians are quiescent for too long, Israelis tend to forget about the occupation, the ongoing brutalization and the humiliation. They lull themselves into a state of Zen contentment in which the only problems are internal – unruly ultra-Orthodox anarchists and the perennial political numbers game.
As Friedrich Engels once said, “A nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations.” Israelis get to thinking that they are free and unencumbered when the Palestinians behave themselves for too long. The current imbroglio is a timely reminder that they are not.
And then – the third point – there are the neo-fascist right-wingers, who have been inciting trouble ever since Netanyahu selected them for inclusion in his next government – a move that would have come to pass had the numbers been a little more in his favor.
Mix all three points together, add a little toxin and, presto, you understand how we got here. Netanyahu needed a “security situation” to prevent the establishment of a government excluding him (in which at least one of the Arab parties would have supported a center-right, anti-Bibi coalition); the neo-fascists, emboldened by their support in the election and the awareness of Netanyahu’s reliance on them, began a campaign of anti-Arab incitement; and the bulk of the population, now freed from masks and Covid restrictions, resumed their partying, deaf to the anti-Arab ugliness all around them.
It began with a right-wing attempt to evict Palestinian residents from their homes in the East Jerusalem suburb of Sheikh Jarrah, on the spurious grounds that the land had previously been owned by Jews. Some of the families have been there for 160 years.
Of course, most Israelis live on land that was previously owned by Palestinians; land from which they fled or were evicted at the time the state was established and for which they were never compensated. But in Israel that passes for justice. There is even a law, the Absentee Property Law, which allows Israelis to steal Arab land with no compensation necessary.
Palestinians took to the streets to protest against the evictions, while – in an attempt to further foment the crisis that Netanyahu needed – Jewish neo-fascists circulated fake Tik Tok videos of Palestinian youths harassing Jewish girls and held provocative marches through Palestinian neighborhoods. As expected, tempers got heated.
When Ramadan began a few weeks ago, the Palestinians relocated their protests to the Haram esh-Sharif (known to the Jews as the Temple Mount), which houses the Al-Aksa Mosque. Last week, with blatant disregard for religious sensibilities, Israeli riot police attacked the compound with tear gas and rubber bullets, causing numerous casualties.
The police and the neo-fascists gave Netanyahu the tinderbox situation he needed to forestall the establishment of a new government. He may not have expected it to get as out of hand as it did, but that’s what happens when you play with fire. Only three days ago, Hamas warned in a public statement that it would get involved if the incessant provocation in Jerusalem did not cease.
Hamas is now involved and Israeli troops are streaming to the Gaza border. Whether the current situation will lead to the sort of all-out clash we last witnessed in 2014 is anybody’s guess. Even if it doesn’t, people have already died and there is more to come.
Despite his crocodile tears for the Israelis who died in last night’s rocket bombardments, Netanyahu has reason for satisfaction. The proposed anti-Bibi government seems to be dead in the water. Israel’s political pyromaniac rules on.